Making a gift for God
And how did this “bad” spirit show itself in the thing? It showed itself in the fact that this thing stood out too much. It was not part of the wall. It was not part of the office. It drew too much attention to itself. As a center, it shouted slightly too loud. It was not really arising out of the structure which was there, and gently embellishing it. It was so humble in the way it was made, slightly rounded corners and all, that it was screaming for attention.
This attention it was tying to get was fairly modest. After all, the thing was made of simple pine boards, varnished. But it was clear, in its spirit, that it was made to impress. It did not leave things alone. It was too formal, not practical enough. As a result it is trivial. But it would have been impossible to correct its defects, one by one. The only way to correct such a thing is to make it in an entirely different frame of mind.
Thus although what is wrong with it lies in something physical that we can see, it cannot be put right at any concrete practical level in the physical details of the thing. It can only be put right by a change in attitude, and above all, by an entirely different intention, by a different motivation.
…each time, and in each case, I ask myself which of the various things that I can do, which one is the best gift for God?
In particular, I ask myself if this gift is humble enough to be such a gift. When I ask that, all the small stupidities of my work come out into the open. In that state of mind, and with that question, I always see the egocentric part clearly — the part which is there to glorify me. Then I have a chance of getting rid of all that part, because, with the help of this question, I see more clearly what it is.
This is a good example of whether you believe in the premise or not — asking that particular question — it does make it very clear what Alexander is after: avoiding the ego.
The trouble is, it is immensely hard work asking this question. It is a bore. It is troublesome. It is pedantic. It is too pious. I can’t be bothered with it. It is absurd to keep on asking myself this question. Besides, this question finds me out, and keeps on showing me — what I don’t want to know — that my natural inclinations are no good, that my work is too puffed up with pride, that my judgement is imperfect.
In effect, what this question does, is it forces me to be humble. I cannot pretend that the small self-glorifications and self-aggrandizements which exist in the thing I am making are not there. So this question gives me the ability to get rid of them, to see beyond them, and to see which path in the making of the thing, is most free of them.